Ladies and gentlemen, we have a game

Finally, some progress.

The Brooklyn Game Ensemble has been plugging away at the Library, and the good news is that we have a playable game – more or less. The game we have is very very very far from complete (you can’t really win yet, 100% of the visuals are placeholder, etc.) but we think we have the basis of what will become our final game.

Here’s a summary of what it is like to play the game right now:

  • The space of the game is still a series of irregular rooms, constructed out of large “stacks” of papers. Each stack represents a single word.
  • The stacks in each room are themed. The words in the stacks of a given room all have something in common – they might all be names of colors, or capital cities, or words about emotions, or words having to do with dirt.
  • There are also lost word stacks. These are misplaced words that are located in the wrong rooms, and one of the player’s tasks is to bring these words back to their proper rooms.
  • The game begins with all of the word stacks blank – not yet labelled with words. The player can reveal the words associated with book stacks by clicking on them, but that uses up a bit of the player’s energy – one of the little white spheres we are calling “fireflies.”
  • When you do return a word to its proper room, you get more fireflies. So success perpetuates the process: correctly placed lost words lead to more fireflies that let you reveal more books that you can bring back to the correct rooms. You actually gain some fireflies even when you bring a word to the wrong room – but you used up one of the lost books, so that’s not a good long-term approach to the game.

So that little bit of logic design gives us a “core loop” – a task for the player to accomplish that can be repeated many times across a given game. So far, we are finding this core loop quite interesting. For example, if you reveal the word “gold,” it might be because it is in a room of color words, or a room about minerals, or perhaps a room about economics. You end up having to triangulate several books in a room before you can really know what the room is about.

This little language sorting mechanic is crossed with a spatial exploration mechanic. When the game starts, only a handful of rooms have been unlocked. The rest are darkened and you can’t enter them. But when you bring a correct lost word to is matching room, a neighboring room becomes unlocked. So the more words you correctly sort, the more the level gradually unlocks for you to explore – which leads to more rooms and more lost words.

The best thing about the game so far is that we’ve managed to sew together a procedural puzzle – a space of logic which gradually unfolds, and each time the game is played, the layout, the rooms, and the lost books are all reshuffled, making for a completely different challenge. Procedural logic puzzles are tricky to design, so it’s satisfying to see this one working. And what’s more, the gameplay really centers on the meaning of each word, which meshes so well with our theme of a game set in an infinite library.

The worst thing about the game is that it isn’t yet super-enjoyable. It is interesting, but not fun. But we’re working on that. In a recent conversation with game designer Richard LeMarchand about the game, he encouraged us to add a challenge – to add some kind of pressure that keeps the player on her toes and worried about losing or not doing well.

The current set of features we’re working on adds just these kinds of challenges. We have obstacles, challenges, and characters in the library that turn sense into nonsense, that reduce the player’s fireflies, that can delete word stacks, and – yes – can even end the game. But more about these as we implement them. For the time being, we’re just happy that our weird conceptual game experiment is actually becoming a game.


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